“I just felt that if I didn’t do something then no one else would.” So speaks Nick Wallis, the journalist who helped expose one of the biggest miscarriages of justice this country has ever seen.
The Great Post Office Scandal is now well known, although the inquiry into the Post Office’s multimillion pound IT disaster which put innocent people in jail, is still ongoing.
And yet Nick’s part in the whole terrible saga didn’t begin until one afternoon in 2010 when a taxi driver told the BBC radio journalist that his pregnant wife had been sent to prison for a crime she did not commit.
“It sounded like a great story so I started looking into it. At this point the Post office was still saying there was nothing to worry about – that those involved had been sent to jail for good reason; because they were criminals.
“But for me it just didn’t add up. These were mainly middle-aged, middle-class people who were community minded, dedicated to their jobs and had no criminal records.
“for me it just didn’t add up. These were middle-aged, middle-class people with no criminal records, so I knew we were onto something”
“Too many of them had the same story as well so I knew we were onto something,” he remembers.
Persuading anyone to take up his mantle however was harder. For a start there was no proof: “The Post Office wasn’t budging and said I was just barking up the wrong tree. But eventually Private Eye picked it up and then we started getting some traction. Everything went from there really.”
Nick’s determination to get to the truth of the matter and expose the scandal led to a ten-part series for BBC Radio, BBC Panorama documentaries, a Private Eye special, a new book The Post Office Scandal (see above) and a slot at Oxford Literary Festival (on Friday at 6pm).
“No one at the Post Office was willing to consider the difference between a computer error and fraud”
“It was a tough sell,” Nick accedes “because the victims were convicted through our criminal courts, pleaded guilty, and there was no evidence to the contrary.
“But if what they were saying was true then a staggering injustice had taken place. I had no idea of the scale of the problem back then, but when you consider that over 700 people were prosecuted between 2000 and 2015, and more than 200 went to jail, and yet the Post Office consistently told everyone nothing was wrong.
Indeed, until Nick threw his hat into the ring, their pleas of innocence had gone largely unheeded.
So what happened? “There was a total level of corporate blindness. The judge called it a ‘malevolent indifference’. No one at the Post Office was willing to consider the difference between a computer error and fraud,” Nick says.
The whole unbelievable saga is going to be the subject of an ITV drama aired later this year, on which Nick is a series consultant, but if you want to hear more, get down to the Oxford Martin School on Friday night at 6pm, where Nick will be discussing his part in uncovering the scandal as part of Oxford Literary Festival.
He will also look back at the impact one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in legal history and the effect it had on the many victims who were pillars of their community, several hailing from Oxfordshire.
It was the greatest privilege of my life working on The Great Post Office Scandal and helping its victims seek justice
“It was the greatest privilege of my life working on The Great Post Office Scandal and helping its victims seek justice,” he says.
“Yes it was a great story, but I met so many amazing people all fighting for the same thing. But it broke so many of them along the way, not just financially but mentally and socially. You wouldn’t believe it could happen really.”
Nick Wallis is appearing at Oxford Literary Festival interviewed by Nick Higham on Friday, 31 March at 6pm at Oxford Martin School Lecture Theatre. Book at https://oxfordliteraryfestival.org/authors-speakers/2023/nick-wallis